Review: The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson (2022)

Blurb

The longer the marriage, the harder truth becomes…

Meet the Hanrahan family, gathering for a momentous weekend as famous artist and notorious egoist Ray Hanrahan prepares for a new exhibition of his art – the first in many decades – and one he is sure will burnish his reputation for good.

His three children will be there: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest champion; sensitive Patrick, who has finally decided to strike out on his own; and insecure Jess, the youngest, who has her own momentous decision to make…

And what of Lucia, Ray’s steadfast and selfless wife? She is an artist, too, but has always had to put her roles as wife and mother first. What will happen if she decides to change? For Lucia is hiding secrets of her own, and as the weekend unfolds and the exhibition approaches, she must finally make a choice.

The Exhibitionist is the extraordinary fifth novel from Charlotte Mendelson, a dazzling exploration of art, sacrifice, toxic family politics, queer desire, and personal freedom.

Review

Many thanks to Mantle Books for sending me a proof copy of The Exhibitionist in exchange for an honest review.

I have just binge-watched Succession (I’m always slightly behind the times when it comes to TV!) and have realised just how much I enjoy really horrible protagonists. Ray Hanrahan is a deliciously awful man – egotistical in the extreme, utterly deluded in his sense of self-importance, and pretty vile to almost everyone around him. Fantastic stuff – but what makes it work best is that we orbit him at a slight remove, never entering into his point of view, but instead seeing him through the eyes of his supposed nearest and dearest.

Although it is a very different type of family drama, the roving viewpoint put me in mind of one of my favourite sagas, The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Mendelson’s writing is sharper, closer to the bone, but it has that sweeping feel that I love so much in EJH’s books. We get to know all of the members of the Hanrahan clan – self-sacrificing Leah, whose entire life is dedicated to her father’s whims; Jess, who seems by far the most sensible member of the family; gentle Patrick, perhaps the most endearing of the bunch.

But the real heart of the story is Lucia, a talented artist in her own right, who has given up her dreams time and time again in order to try and preserve marital harmony with her beast of a husband. Her journey is an intricate, beautifully written transformation tale, and I really enjoyed seeing her change as the story progressed.

Mendelson’s writing is stunning; the prose is taut and surprising and full of piercing images that make you see the world afresh. I’m really looking forward to exploring this author’s back catalogue, and I’m sure that The Exhibitionist will gain her many new fans like me.

The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson is published by Mantle Books. A special edition with gorgeous stencilled edges is available here.

3 thoughts on “Review: The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson (2022)

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